The History of British Open Host Royal Portrush Golf Club

By Ryan Watson

Royal Portrush Golf Club 18th hole

The 148th Open Championship kicks of July 18-21 as the best golfers in the world compete for the Claret Jug. This year, the host course is Royal Portrush Golf Club located in Portrush, Northern Ireland. The club has a long history and has played an important role in building up the game of golf, especially in Ireland. The club dates to 1888 when it was founded as “The County Club”. It earned its royal title in 1892 when the then Duke of York became its patron, changing its name to the Royal Portrush Golf Club, now with the Prince of Wales and soon to be King Edward VII serving as the club’s patron. The course was originally only a 9 hole course, however, it was extended to 18 holes in 1889. This was at a time when there was still no standard number of holes at a golf course, and the move to 18 holes helped speed up the standardization of golf courses. The course got an updated layout in 1929 by architect Harry Colt and today much of the original routing has been maintained, though the course has been lengthened.

The course has hosted numerous tournaments over its long history, including the inaugural Irish Amateur in 1892. It also hosted Ireland’s first professional tournament in 1895 when Harry Vardon, soon to be considered one of golf’s greatest players, lost to Royal Portrush's club professional Alex Herd. The course again made history in 1951 when it hosted the Open Championship, becoming the first and only course outside of Scotland and England to host the tournament. The tournament was won by Max Faulkner, his only major title, over Argentine golfer Antonio Cerda by 2 strokes. It was best remembered for both the rainy conditions and for an extraordinary shot made by Faulkner where he hit his ball purposefully over a fence into an out of bounds area only to fade it back into play and onto the green. It was certainly high risk golf for the Englishman.

The Open Championship’s return has led to more alterations to the course to correspond with technological advances in golf. Two new holes are being added to the Championship course to replace the 17th and 18th holes. In addition, multiple holes will be lengthened and some will have minor routing changes. In all, the course will be expanded by over 200 yards yet par will remain at 72. Club members will hope to see an Irishman win the event, with Portrush born Graeme McDowell the local favorite. His fellow countryman Rory McIlroy will also be a fan favorite. McIlroy has history on the course, shooting a course record of 61 at the age of 16. Both will take inspiration from Portrush member Darren Clarke, winner of the 2011 Open Championship whose winners medal is proudly displayed at the club. Both McDowell and McIlroy are honorary members of this historic club and will be looking to honor its traditions at the 2019 Open Championship.

About the Author

Ryan Watson is a freelance sportswriter and history professor. He has been an avid fan of golf since his father signed him up for golf camp as a young child. Ryan enjoys following the professional game and learning about new equipment and gadgets.